I was a bit upset with myself for not writing a post about the first week of the 2017 Australian Open Saturday (or was it Sunday? I get so confused about what day it is this time of the year). After the matches last night and early this morning here on the east coast of the United States I’m glad I didn’t.
Up to last night the big story was the ATP #2 losing early, racist comments by an ESPN commentator re Venus Williams who is gleefully introducing herself to a new generation (what was that you said Duan Yingying?) and a three hour plus WTA match between Svetlana Kuznetsova and Jelena Jankovic (JJ will be working with Guillermo Canas for a bit), and Agnieszka Radwanska being escorted to the exit by Mirjana Lucic-Baroni. Going into last night’s matches I had two wishes: That Jo-Wilfried Tsonga would beat Dan Evans and that Angelique Kerber would find a way to beat Coco Vandeweghe. One out of two ain’t bad. I had no idea that Mikhail “Mischa” Zverev would decide that last night was the time to remind the tennis world that there are two Zverev brothers on the tour. I should’ve known that when Kerber needed three sets to see off the brainless Carina Witthoef (I’ve seen Witthoef play live and will stand by my judgement of her tennis brain) that Kerber would be vulnerable to the obnoxious Vandeweghe.
I thought that this year would be tough for Kerber. Her game is not the strongest and despite her obvious attempt to be even fitter than she was last year it was always going to be a battle for her to hold onto the number one ranking. She mostly played her way into number one if you remember her 2016 schedule. She got a ton of points winning Australia and the US Open last year but in between those wins she played a lot and lost a lot. All of the PR surrounding her ascent was more the WTA wanting (needing?) someone not Serena Williams as its number one. I mentioned their unseemly haste in kicking Serena to the curb to elevate and promote Kerber. I have nothing against Kerber. She seems like a very nice person. But the WTA betrayed its anti Venus Williams and Serena Williams bias once again by insinuating that Kerber was somehow “saving” women’s tennis. Don’t forget they’ve been trying to give the savior title to Eugenie Bouchard for awhile now.
But enough of that. Kerber was vulnerable as the hunted and she lost badly to Vandeweghe who was, from what I saw of the video, her usual obnoxious self at the end. The USTA is going to try and push her as the heir apparent to the Williams but they’re going to have a hard time doing it. Vandeweghe is known and hated by many, many fans and changing that view of her will be hard. Her attempted intimidation a chair ump the other night was only the latest in a list of horrid things she’s done on court. Garbiñe Muguruza we’re counting on you.
Andy Murray‘s loss is a bit harder to understand. He had a fairly easy draw and Mischa Zverev was supposed to be roadkill not a bump in the road. There is a huge difference between modern tennis and old school serve and volley tennis and to this viewer Murray was not able to force Mischa out of his game plan. I’m calling the older Zverev by his first name to differentiate him from his younger brother Alexander (Sascha) Zverev. Add to that Mischa’s forehand was on fire and you had a recipe for disaster. It was Murray who, when confronted by a man playing like it was 1989 had his brain freeze. His vaunted (by US and British tennis media) Ivan Lendl had nothing to contribute. For most of the tournament he seemed to be asleep in his front row seat. He played when serve and volley was still fairly common and should’ve been able to give his player some guidance as to what to do. You knew Murray was in trouble when ESPN stopped showing him and began showing Murray’s real, full time coach Jamie Delgado.
One of the things I’ve said over my years of doing this blog is that a soft draw does not a champion make. Murray has had a lot of soft draws lately and this one was no different. When you’ve been phoning it in for your early round matches it’s hard to kick it up a notch when facing someone you’ve rarely seen play and who was not considered a threat by you or your team. Sometimes it’s better to have to face the players who are going to give you a hard time early instead of tennis version of the “bum of the week” from the world of boxing.
Both number one’s are out now and it’s interesting seeing the mental gymnastics the so called tennis pundits are putting themselves through. The US spring hard court swing is looming large now. Will it confirm 2017 as the “Year of Living Dangerously” for top players? Will older fan favorites be able to reassert themselves? Will new jacks, sorry, Next Gen players be able to step up? Did Nishikork Kei take a shower during his match last night? Enquiring minds want to know you know.
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